CMW editor Paul Colston recently spoke at the MICE Day in the Urals event, 27-29 June, in Ekaterinburg, and stayed on to explore the region’s offer for events.
Now the Urals powerhouse city is leading a charge into the MICE arena, with a nice sideline in sporting venues.
The Urals Region #MICEDay event gathered industry professionals who got to see first-hand how Russia’s fourth biggest city is reaching for the skies in many ways – not least as the new home for skyscraper technology and construction (check out the Vysotsky Tower).
The Boris Yeltsin legacy is firmly in place at the Yeltsin Centre, a sort of shopping mall meets museum and conference centre rolled into one.
Just a few metres walk from the Hyatt Regency, the Yeltsin Centre certainly provides a talking point and an evocative backdrop to any event, not least because one of the former President’s limos sits parked inside the entrance.
The Ekaterinburg Arena was one of Russia’s host venues for the successful FIFA World Cup in 2018 and my tour of the facility included a chance to sit on the locker room seat used by Paul Pogba. (I don’t think a move for the unsettled Manchester United star to the city’s FC Ural Russian premier league team is on the cards, however).
With Russian football crowds unlikely to fill even half of the 45,000-seater stadium on a regular basis, events will need to be a big part of the marketing thinking in future at the Arena.
Martial arts are certainly thriving in Russia, as well as boxing. There is a big appetite for judo, jujitsu, SAMBO and Graeco-Roman wrestling in the country and The Russian Copper Company (RCC) has put big investment into sponsoring the five-storey centre, the Ekaterinburg Martial Arts Academy of RCC.
Practice and training was in full swing during my visit to RCC and a boxing belt donated by Mike Tyson takes pride of place in the inner sanctum. It stands next to a conference space which the organisers are thinking of renting out in future, when the space is not in use as an MMA ‘cage’.
A short drive from the city centre can bring you to the 250-hectare Pine Creek golf centre which also has plenty of meetings and events space and provides a swish venue and experience for delegates wishing to get a taste of Urals Big Nature. The club was designed by British architect Paul Thomas.
The Urals Yacht Club Komatek, with its ‘Drop Anchor’ restaurant, meanwhile, back in the city, is a new venture on the shores of the local reservoir and is training future Olympians and hosting international race meetings. There is a hotel on site and management is looking to enter the MICE business with its teambuilding offers allied to smaller meetings spaces, all tacking towards most reasonable rates.
And, if all that sporting activity leaves you a little tired, then you can recharge in one of the many restaurants or cafes in the city centre, all at prices well below West European levels.
You can also dip your feet, literally, into Asia, as the surrounding region straddles the border between Europe and Asia.
And I also advise a trip out to Berezovsky, the birthplace of Russian gold where the first gold mining plant was built in 1754 and from where Russian prospectors were even invited to advise during America’s gold rush.
When your fighting spirit returns, you can go to see the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company Museum of Military and Civilian Vehicles and its 5,700 exhibits. A must-see for anyone interested in tanks and planes.
For those thinking big in the congress and exhibition market, then the IEC Ekaterinburg Expo, with 100,000sqm of events space, is the largest such complex in the Urals and set to launch a new pavilion for business events.
The Expo was host to the Urals MICE Day and showcased its modern facilities to key national organisers as well as international guests.
The barrier, I guess, to visiting the Urals – gateway to Siberia – is that a change via Moscow or St Petersburg, and a two-hour flight from there is necessary for most international travellers wishing to take the Urals meetings challenge.
However, for unique experiences and a taste of the real Russian hinterland, you’d be a bad sport for not wanting to investigate at least.